Photo cred: dannydalypix; The “Piano Guy” can be found on Instagram @colinhuggins.nyc
“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” -Andy Warhol
There’s an amazing pianist who plays in the middle of Washington Square Park here in the city on the weekends.
Somehow, he gets a baby grand piano into the center of the park, sets up underneath the trees, and holds court.
He’s so good and the experience is so moving, that my guy and I often go out of our way to see if he’s there, so we can sit under the trees and let the foot traffic and chaos melt away as we listen to him play.
He’s brilliant and he owns it, and as he will proudly tell you, this is how he makes a living.
The last time we managed to catch a seat on the bench around him, I watched and took note as he masterfully managed the audience, his work, and turned it into a profit.
What made him different from the hundreds of other street performers we pass all the time in the city? Clearly, he’s talented, but truth be told, there are other talented people sharing their art on the city sidewalks who are not getting paid.
It was more than talent, it was how he treated his performance as a business and rocked his sales.
There are a few pointers we can all take from him, whether we’re artists, online business owners, or coaches that will help us all be able to proudly say, “This is how I make my living.”
1. Rock Your Zone of Genius, Own It, and Don’t Be Afraid to Tell People About It.
This guy plays classical music on a piano in the park and makes a living at it. I’m pretty sure no one was telling him, “Hey, guy, you know what would be a great way to make money? Classical music. Piano. Washington Square Park.”
This guy unapologetically plays what he’s great at, on what’s probably the most inconvenient instrument to store and transport. He didn’t back-peddle and decide to bring an electric keyboard. He doesn’t water down his music playing what he things people want to hear. He plays his zone of genius.
And, here’s what brilliant, he isn’t afraid to tell you before a particularly challenging piece just how difficult it is to play and how fortunate you are to listen to it. He owns his talent and worth and knows everyday person might not appreciate his work unless he spells this out for them.
2. Create an Experience and Get Social Proof.
Piano guy has created a unique experience, where members of the audience can lie underneath his piano to experience the music in a life-changing way.
Here’s what’s brilliant: he offers the experience and has the listeners tell the audience how they felt afterwards. This allows them to promote the experience for him and generates social proof.
For any tourist, this is a one-of-a-kind New York moment.
3. Let Other People Advertise For You.
I’m not sure if this is intentional, but he’s set himself up in a way that’s prime for everyone watching to take photos and upload to social media. He’s gives audience members who want it a stamp with his hashtag when they leave, so they can’t forget.
What does this do for him? This allows him to generate word of mouth opportunities every time he’s playing and free social media press. He focuses on delivering great work and lets the audience do the advertising for him.
4. Deliver Value And Asks For The Sale.
After each song, like “Für Elise”, he tells the audience about what they’re hearing. He delivers a service and performance for free, and then he invites everyone watching to leave him whatever amount they’d like in one of the four buckets he has set up around him.
Not only does he remind people that he makes his living this way, but he also doesn’t expect people to hear this only once and comply.
He doesn’t hope people will get the hint because there are buckets around him. After each song, he kindly speaks up, reminds people how difficult the piece was, or speaks to the value of the his work, and clearly invites the audience to pay him. And they do.
5. Make It Really Easy For People To Give You Money.
Not only does he remind people over and over again that, “Hey, you should pay me”, he also makes it super easy for people to give him money.
He has four buckets to collect cash around him. Meaning, wherever you’re sitting, you don’t have to walk far or out of your way to hand over some moola. It also means anyone walking by passes a bucket.
And, he’s created a Venmo handle that he shares with the audience and has clearly labeled on his buckets, so there’s no room for, “I don’t have any cash”.
Anyone with a Venmo account can take out their phone while he’s playing and send him some money.
My favorite part about all of this? This guy, playing his music in the park is a shining example of creating our own version of success. He exemplifies that there is no one way, no one strategy, no one path to making money doing what we love. He’s demonstrating the power of what happens when we get creative and make our own rules. And, he isn’t hiding in plain sight, he’s anything but, as he owns his work and boldly plants himself in the middle of one of the busiest and most popular parks in the world.
He’s making it work his way.
As we all look to ways to grow our businesses, create our version of success, stop hiding in plain sight and make more money doing what we love, I hope you can take a page from this guy’s playbook.
While his business might not be traditional, when you peel back the layers, he’s applying some foundational business principles and making them work for him. The results? As he’ll tell you, he makes a living doing this.
Wishing you your version of success!
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